Research ArticleCELLULAR NEUROSCIENCE

Trans-synaptic assemblies link synaptic vesicles and neuroreceptors

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Science Advances  05 Mar 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 10, eabe6204
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6204

Abstract

Synaptic transmission is characterized by fast, tightly coupled processes and complex signaling pathways that require a precise protein organization, such as the previously reported nanodomain colocalization of pre- and postsynaptic proteins. Here, we used cryo–electron tomography to visualize synaptic complexes together with their native environment comprising interacting proteins and lipids on a 2- to 4-nm scale. Using template-free detection and classification, we showed that tripartite trans-synaptic assemblies (subcolumns) link synaptic vesicles to postsynaptic receptors and established that a particular displacement between directly interacting complexes characterizes subcolumns. Furthermore, we obtained de novo average structures of ionotropic glutamate receptors in their physiological composition, embedded in plasma membrane. These data support the hypothesis that synaptic function is carried by precisely organized trans-synaptic units. It provides a framework for further exploration of synaptic and other large molecular assemblies that link different cells or cellular regions and may require weak or transient interactions to exert their function.

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